Woman who uses walker criticizes Ottawa's grooved sidewalks

An Ottawa woman who uses a walker to get around says she’s filing a human rights complaint against the City of Ottawa for the way some sidewalks are designed near her home.

Carol Nixon, 69, says she'll file a human rights complaint because design makes her feel unsafe

Carol Nixon uses a walker and says she can't cross the street near her house without help. 3:09

A 69-year-old woman who uses a walker to get around says she’s filing a human rights complaint against the City of Ottawa for the way some sidewalks are designed near her home.

The grooves in a new sidewalk along Rideau Street at Nelson Street has caused Carol Nixon, who uses a walker due to MS, to worry about moving about. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Carol Nixon, who has multiple sclerosis, said grooved sidewalks at the intersection of Nelson and Rideau streets, near her Sandy Hill home, make her feel unsafe.

"(I have) a weak left side because of my MS and since the city put grooved pavement in, I can't even go anywhere," she said.

"I used to be able to go to Metro, I could go to Shoppers Drug Mart, the mailbox, I can't do any of those things anymore."

Nixon said she moved to the area 15 years ago so she could walk to all the grocery stores and to the medical lab, but since the city put in the new sidewalks a year ago, Nixon has been afraid to venture out of her apartment.

Nixon said the MS has weakened her so she only has strength one one side of her body, making it difficult to balance. She is afraid of falling when walking on the grooved sidewalks because her walker’s wheels get stuck between the ridges, which stretch for about 10 metres on all four corners of the intersection at Nelson and Rideau.

She said she’s been trying to get the city to fix the problem since April and suggests switching to another design or smoothing out some of the ridges.

Designed to help visually impaired

Area councillor Mathieu Fleury said the ridged sidewalks are meant to help the visually impaired, but they’ll be reviewing the design at that intersection.

"These are put in place for accessibility measures to make sure the blind know where the crosswalk starts and ends,” he said.

"Since (it was put in), the policy has changed towards 'twizzies,' which are more of a bumpy surface — not as groovy as what you've seen in the past. They're probably easier for someone using a walker or a wheelchair to traverse."

Fleury said they aren't going back and redoing sidewalks built with the old design, but when renovating other intersections they use the new, bumpy method.

Nixon said she will file a human rights complaint over the sidewalk design at her intersection.

"I have the right to be able to get places, to use the sidewalk and the city's just taking that away by using that," she said.

"A lot of people don’t like to speak up but I have the right to go out and they’ve taken that away from me."

Lawyer Andrew Lister said he hasn't heard of a case like this, but if the city proves it followed the rules and best practices at the time they put in the grooved sidewalk, it would have a good case.

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